There's no question that the Tiger Woods series is the king of video game golf, but that hasn't stopped other developers from trying to get their piece of the pie. While there's always room for more good golf games, ProStroke Golf - World Tour 2007 from Gusto Games doesn't fit the bill. The core gameplay isn't bad, and for the most part, the swing mechanics work just fine. However, the lack of distinguishing features, subpar graphics, and paltry list of licensed pros make ProStroke Golf an underwhelming effort.
If a feature-rich golf experience is what you seek, ProStroke Golf is not what you're looking for. You can go through the inadequate training mode, play a quick round, enter a tournament, or start a career. ProStroke Golf is a strictly offline experience. Up to four players can play against each other on one system in an exhibition, but you aren't able to play together in the career mode. In many games, career mode offers the most depth and replay value, but that's not the case in ProStroke Golf. Embarking on a career is extremely basic, consisting of a calendar of fictitious one-day tournaments and little else. Hidden away are challenge events that can be accessed only by selecting an open date on the tour schedule. These challenges consist of shorter events or one-on-one matches and are often more enjoyable than the full tournaments, so it's curious that the game doesn't do a better job of pointing them out. Money can't be spent to upgrade equipment or buy new outfits, so you'll find yourself pursuing "renown points," which are earned for winning tournaments and accomplishing feats such as hitting a green in regulation or driving the ball 280 yards. These points improve your golfer's abilities, though you never actually see any stats reflecting the changes. Renown points also unlock higher-profile events, though these events are largely the same as those that you started off playing, differing only in the number of entrants, size of the purse, and score of the winner.
ProStroke Golf has eight licensed professional golfers--Sergio Garcia, Mark O'Meara, Justin Rose, Ben Curtis, Thomas Bjorn, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, and Zhang Lian-Wei--only a few of which the casual fan will recognize. The number of real-world courses in the game is even less impressive, numbering in at just two: The Brabazon and Sergio Garcia's home course, Lake Nona. There are 16 fantasy courses, and though they do offer up a good challenge, they aren't particularly interesting. It would have been better if the developer took advantage of creating a course from the ground up by taking some risks with the fictional courses.
On the course, ProStroke finds a good balance between being challenging and fun. Since the scores are realistic, you'll never shoot in the 50's as you can in Tiger Woods or Hot Shots, but the game never feels unfair. In fact, the realistic scoring makes salvaging par after an errant tee shot as rewarding as getting a birdie in other games. Despite being touted as an innovative feature, ProStroke's swing mechanic is little more than Tiger Woods' system turned sideways. Instead of moving the right analog stick down and then up to swing, you have to move it right and then left. Moving the left analog stick in synch with the right is designed to replicate moving your body weight while swinging to generate more power. Using the left analog stick adds at most 10 percent to your distance, but it also increases the likelihood of hooking or slicing the ball. Should you wish to add a slice or hook to your shot, doing so is as easy as shifting the position of your front foot, via a quick press up or down on the D pad. This occasionally comes in handy when you need to get around some trees on a hole that doglegs left or right.
A few other issues keep the on-course action from rivaling that of more established golf games. The game's pace of play is agonizingly slow since you're always forced to play alongside a computer-controlled golfer in career mode. You can't skip your opponent's turn, and to make matters worse, in the early tournaments the computer's play is dreadful. Matches will drag on for close to an hour as you watch the computer score in the mid-80's. Figuring out just how far a shot is going to go is another problem. Iron shots will often fall far short of the target or go much farther than you intended them to, and drives vary in length by 20 to 30 yards from one hole to the next for no readily apparent reason. Some of this may be due to the wind, but the onscreen indicator is impossible to read. Also, it's very difficult to judge the slope of the greens when you're chipping and don't have the benefit of the grid overlay. You can try and compensate for not knowing how a green slopes by shaping your shot using the left analog stick before your swing, but it's extremely difficult to judge how far the ball will travel, even with the aid of the visual shot-shaper indicator. After several tournaments, we encountered a bug that tallies your final score incorrectly. However, every time it occurred, our golfer actually finished higher in the standings, so it wasn't too off-putting.
Judging by the popularity of the create-a-character mode in the Tiger Woods series, it seems obvious that one feature people enjoy most about video golf is creating and then building up a character. Apparently, the developers at Gusto Games didn't get the memo. When creating a golfer, you are stuck choosing between two hats, two shirts, two pants, and two gloves. The options are so limited that you don't even have the alternative of going hatless, nor can you change your body type, height, or facial features. Even if you could customize your character, it wouldn't do much to make your golfer more interesting since none of the characters can blink, make facial expressions, or so much as celebrate with a fist pump after a big shot. The course-designer tool is similarly limited. After naming the course, selecting a region, time of year, and cloud cover, you're left to fumble around with the unintuitive editor. The manual does a fair job of explaining the course-building process, but there's no onscreen help to ease the learning curve. The shallow visual-customization options leave your created courses looking repetitive and drab. Those that are patient can create some interesting and outrageous courses, though the inability to share them via the Internet render any such endeavor destined to be viewed by a precious few.
ProStroke Golf's visuals are so bad that they frequently impact gameplay. The greens don't look much different than the fairways, the water looks like it was ripped from a PlayStation game, and the colors are bland. None of the available camera angles work particularly well, and the camera often finds itself behind or among the trees, which are a blurry, pixilated mess. Gusto's decision to go with a top-down view that shows just the club head and the ball when you're swinging forces you to time your swing solely off of the meter. This is peculiar since the game encourages you to "feel" a shot rather than just hit it based on what the numbers say. Putting is made more difficult not only because the poor camera angles cut off half of the putting line when you zoom in toward the hole, but also because it's tough to judge the blips that move along the grid indicating the slope. On the PlayStation 2, the blips are difficult to see due to aliasing problems, while on the Xbox, they move extremely fast, making the break seem more severe than it actually is.
One could certainly argue that good commentary has yet to be done in a golf game, and ProStroke Golf isn't going to change anybody's mind. The commentary is dreadful. Ian Baker-Finch, Alan Green, and Sam Torrance call the action without an ounce of enthusiasm. To make matters worse, their dry narration is often incorrect. They'll chide you for a bad shot when you put the ball just feet from the pin from 150 yards out, praise you as your ball rolls past the pin and off the green, and call out the score incorrectly more often than they get it right. The crowds are equally dull. They'll clap politely for any reasonably good shot, and they'll cheer just a tiny bit when you hit an exceptional shot. Even simple sounds like the ambient noises of the course are done poorly. The background and menu music don't stray from the bland precedent set by the rest of the audio--they're just as bad.
ProStroke Golf's action on the course is just good enough to be entertaining for a short while, but it's impossible to look past its many problems for very long. Embarrassing visuals, horrible commentary, pitiful create-a-character options, and dreadfully slow gameplay are just a few of the game's many shortcomings. Having 2007 in the title indicates that Gusto Games has at least considered a follow-up effort, but they've got a lot of work ahead of them before this series can be mentioned alongside Tiger Woods, Links, and Hot Shots.